On Monday 28 July 1952, the Melbourne Argus became the first newspaper in the world to print a high-speed action news picture in full colour. In what was a technological marvel for its time, there were coloured photos of sporting events on the front and back pages.

The front page banner was printed in garish alternate blue and red block letters, which hopefully has never been repeated. This was accompanied by a photo of the AV Hiskens steeplechase at Moonee Valley the previous Saturday.

Front cover of Melbourne's Argus newspaper, printed in colour, showing horse jumps racing

The Argus, Monday 28 July 1952, p 1

The Argus wrote “Here’s a picture that makes news – and newspaper history, too. It is the first time ever that a newspaper anywhere in the world has produced a high-speed action news picture in color [sic] within hours of the event. It proves that color [sic] news photography for daily journalism is a practical proposition and no longer a newspaper-man’s dream.”

The Argus did print in colour regularly, but their dream was short-lived as the newspaper closed in January 1957. Before then it was the envy of the newspaper world, especially when it published colour photos for the Olympics, the Melbourne Cup and the Queen’s visit in 1954. Circulation increased by up to 25% for issues covering these special events. However, former staff recall that the colour printers purchased by the paper’s new owners to rescue the struggling paper were unreliable and very expensive. Sometimes, printing problems resulted in The Argus missing all early morning sales as it was not distributed until after 9 or 10 am. It was not until the late 1980s that colour became a daily feature of newspapers, so The Argus was certainly well ahead of its time.

Back page of Melbourne's Argus newspaper, showing Australian Rules football match between Collingwood and Fitzroy

The Argus, Monday 28 July 1952, back page

Written by Chris Wade
Newspaper Librarian

This article has 18 comments

  1. One of employees responsible for Argus being the first color newspaper has written an autobiography. I thought you might be interested:

    https://www.facebook.com/JohnO.Friend/

  2. I have a complete copy of the Herald published on Monday the 15th of October 1934 which I believe was the first newspaper in Australia to print a full colour front and back page.
    It depicts Batman entering the heads and commemorates Victoria’s 100 year anniversary.
    The newspaper is complete in very good condition and framed I am interested in selling this item if anyone is interested.

    • Hi Gary,
      Our Newspapers Librarian will be in touch soon – stay tuned.
      Cheers,
      Katie Flack
      Victorian and Australian Published Collections Manager

  3. Hi Gary,
    Yes: you make a good point re the colour. The first line of the blog now reads… ‘the Melbourne Argus became the first newspaper in the world to print a high-speed action news picture in full colour.’

    With the Herald front page being a colour illustration- rather than a photo- I think that was the difference the Argus was trying to claim.
    Thanks for reading
    Paul

  4. Patricia Dearsley

    Do you have the copy of the Argus when Squizzy Taylor was murdered.
    I would like to see the front page.

    • Hi Patricia,

      At the time Squizzy died, in 1927, most newspaper front pages contained advertising, instead of news headlines. Some papers, like The Age, included a short summary of the major news on the front page, but you had to open the paper for details.

      You can read more about Squizzy’s death in reports the day after his death, in Melbourne’s Argus newspaper (28 October 1927, page 15). This exciting account, in Sydney’s tabloid newspaper Truth (30 October 1927, page 13), is a great read too.

      Cheers,
      Katie Flack
      Victorian and Australian Published Collections Manager

  5. Joanne Frandsen (Oliver)

    I have tried for years to find the August 1952 front page .
    My father was featured -sailor saves mate from snake bite –
    That is what my father remembers.
    They were at Cockatoo Vic.
    Please is you can help ,I will be so thankful and proud to print it and give to my father David Oliver.
    Regards
    Joanne

    • Hi Joanne,
      I will transfer your question across to our ‘Ask A Librarian’ service, and we email you with details about how to order a copy.
      Cheers,
      Katie

  6. Could someone advise me on how to track down an edition that carried a photograph taken of a young woman standing at a fruit stall in the city, probably Collins Street. Relatives remember the photo appearing on the front page of The Argus around the early days of the colour printing. They say that a photographer from the paper was taken with the young lady’s appearance, particularly the striking colour of her red hair.
    Any assistance or advice would be greatly appreciated.
    regards
    Jules

    • Thanks for your question Jules – one of our newspaper librarians will get back to you with some search tips.

  7. HI Katie. Does the library have the color picture printed by The Argus of “Betty Cuthbert, Golden Girl” that was printed during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics?
    I was only 10 at the time but I can remember the wrap around pages well.

    • Hi David. Thanks for you question. I will ask our newspaper boffins to investigate, and hopefully they can find this image for you. You should hear from them within 10 working days.
      Cheers,
      Katie

  8. Hi. Are the original photographs from The Argus archived anywhere? Thank you. Judy

    • Hi Judy,
      We’re not aware of any large surviving archive of Argus photos, other than the collection of World War II photos donated to the Library by the Age in 1976. They had acquired the Argus when it closed in 1957. We have digitised many thousands of these WWII images, and you can search and view them for free on our catalogue.
      The online Fairfax Photo Store includes 100 or so photos from the Argus archive. Use their advanced search option to search for the phrase ‘Argus Collection’. I can only suggest contacting Fairfax Syndication for further information about any archives.
      You can also view low resolution copies of images from the Argus via the free Trove newspapers website. Use the advanced search option to limit your search to issues of the Argus, restricted to illustrated articles only. If you find an image you like, you can order a copy from the hardcopy newspaper via the Library’s paid copy order service.
      Cheers,
      Katie

  9. Good Morning Katie,
    My mother (Mary Matthews) was a sister in charge of the labour ward at Queen Victoria Hospital sometime between 1955-1962. She told us that one night they delivered 5 (or maybe 7 )sets of twins, as well as many other babies. The Argus had a photo of my mother with the twins. I never saw the photo. I’m hoping you can advise me as to how to find the photo?
    Regards,
    Cath Flanagan

    • Hi Cath. There are two approaches you can take to your search. You can search digitised copies of the Argus up to 1957 for free online, on Trove. (The Argus was last published in 1957). However if the image isn’t accompanied by much text, Trove’s text-based search may have trouble locating it. You can also try checking newspaper indexes for mentions of multiple sets of twins being born, as they may give you a reference to a specific day/issue of a paper, when this story was featured. The Library does not have indexes for the Argus covering this time period, but it holds card indexes for similar papers:
      Herald, (Melbourne), Jan. 1926 – 12 Nov. 1970
      Sun, (Melbourne), Jan. 1929 – 12 Nov. 1970
      If you find a reference here you could look in Argus issues around the same date. Usually you can access these card indexes in the Library’s Family History & Newspaper Reading Rooms. However at the moment, due to COVID-19 restrictions, neither staff or the public can access these indexes, or other Library collections. Keep checking our website for updates about our reopening date, to find out when the indexes can be accessed.

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